Wednesday, August 31, 2022

When Will Alaska Supreme Court Issue Its Full Redistricting Ruling? [UPDATED 9/1 and 9/4/22]

 Wait, what?  I thought they ruled a long time ago?

Yes, they made a couple of rulings.  First they issued a decision on March 25, 2022 when the Redistricting Board appealed Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews' decision. They agreed with him on some things (particularly his calling the Eagle River Senate seats gerrymandering) but not on others (Matthews' ruling against the Board regarding the Skagway appeal and they also ruled against taking Cantwell out of the Denali Borough.  

Then after the Board addressed those issues, their decision was again appealed, Judge Thomas Matthews ruled again, and on May 24, 2022 the Supreme Court removed their temporary stay on Judge Matthews' order to the Board.  

BUT, these were short decisions that briefly summarized what they decided the Board needed to do.  These were NOT decisions that explained their decisions.  

Why do they need to explain their decisions?

The reasoning behind their decisions will help guide future Boards when they make their future redistricting maps.  If they do it clearly, these will be useful guidelines as the next Board grapples with what they can and can't do.  

Some things the Court ought to answer:

1.  Explain what appears to some as a contradiction between past rulings that said everything within a Borough boundary is considered Socio-Economically Integrated and their finding this time that Senate pairings in Anchorage were political gerrymandering.  Those two findings are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but since the Board's attorney's mantra was "everything within a Borough is SEI" the Board majority seemed to think that then they could pair any two contiguous house districts within the Municipality of Anchorage, and it would be fine. (Contiguity being the main legal criterion for a Senate pairing.)  Aren't things like race, economics, political leanings part of Socio-Economic Integration? Why then are factors like race, economics, and political leanings  within a single Municipality  indicators of political gerrymandering?  That needs to be explained.  And maybe the past rulings about everything in a Borough being SEI should be adjusted to reflect the differences within a Borough as populous as the Municipality of Anchorage.  Here's a post I did looking at past rulings about SEI.

[UPDATED Sept 4, 2022:  Maybe this is better focused:  I'd like to see the Court explain how they differentiate the criteria used to determine political gerrymandering and the criteria used for Socio-Economic Integration (SEI).  If Marcum hadn't mentioned that ER would have gotten an extra Senate seat, would the other characteristics of the two paired house districts been irrelevant?  At one point in the Supreme Court hearing there's a discussion between Board attorney Singer and Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews [not to be confused with Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews or Board attorney Matthew Singer] on terms like 'communities of interest,' and 'equal protection.'  It would be nice if they could explain clearly the different concepts that Attorney Singer discussed and how the Court distinguishes between the idea that a Borough is SEI, but, as Justice Matthews pointed out, there are differences in communities of interest within the Borough of Anchorage.]

2. Address the issue of geographic contiguity.  While the House districts paired in the revised map were technically contiguous, the borders that were touching were in unpopulated and roadless mountain areas.  While that 'connected' the two districts physically, the communities in those two districts were geographically far apart (relative to the population of Anchorage) and not really sensible political units. 

"Auto-contiguity" came up as a concept.  That 'auto' refers to cars - can you drive from one part of the district to another without leaving the district?  This was an issue in the Valdez/Mat-Su case and in the Eagle River Senate pairings. 

 I understand that being contiguous in large, roadless rural districts will sometimes require those rural Senate seats to have much less ideal connections between communities.  But in urban areas where there is much greater population density, it seems more than reasonable to consider contiguity as a continuum from "more to less," than an "either/or, yes/no," evaluation.  It was clear that the Board majority paired HD 22 and HD 9 with such an unusable border for political reasons.  The Hickel Decision tell us that

"In addition to preventing gerrymandering, the requirement that districts be composed of relatively integrated socio-economic areas helps to ensure that a voter is not denied his or her right to an equally powerful vote."

In urban areas, extreme contiguity such as we had, should also be an indicator of possible gerrymandering,  particularly when much more natural contiguity alternatives are available.  

3.  Explain why the Supreme Court disagreed with Judge Matthews' finding that the Board needed to pay more attention to public testimony in the Skagway case.  Did they disagree with his reasoning on the Board's need to justify why they were making a decision that was contrary to the overwhelming public testimony?  As I understand it, they basically said, it didn't matter since the district met the criteria for a district.  

4.  There was a request from Calista plaintiffs that ANCSA boundaries be found acceptable as local boundaries for the Board to use making their maps.  This makes some sense in situations where those boundaries connect villages (water districts, schools, roads).  But the for-profit Native corporations are just that: profit making corporations that have a lot of power.  We wouldn't want corporations, say like Conoco or Monsanto, to have their own corporate political districts.  I think the Native Corporations have the burden of proof here that they are sufficiently different, in ways that matter to elections, that it would be okay.  

5.  Also on hold has been the decision about whether the Board has to pay attorney fees for the Girdwood plaintiffs. 

Does it matter when the court rules?

  1. There are several factors to consider in answering that question. 
    1. How urgent is the answer?
      1. Elections
        1. The Board got out its initial brief decision out in time to have an interim map for the 2022 election.  So they took care of the most urgent issue.
        2. The 2024 election is two years away.  Candidates need to decide if they are going to run well before that.  
          1. All of the state House districts are settled.  The court has pretty much closed off any changes to them.
          2. There are only, potentially, two to four Senate seats that could be changed when the Board meets again to decide to just use the 2022 interim map for the rest of the decade, or if they try to tinker with the Senate seats in north/east Anchorage some more. So, at most, less than a handful of Senators might have their districts changed.  AND the voters in those districts will also be affected.  
      2. The Board
        1. There are still five Board members who have to meet at least one more time to decide on a permanent map for the rest of the decade.  These are people who, mostly, have full time jobs.  The longer it takes for the decision to come out, the greater the chances someone might no longer be available to serve.
        2. Board staff is, as I understand it, down to one person - Peter Torkelson.  He needs to be considering his next job and if something good were offered, he'd probably have lots of reasons to take it.
        3. I originally wrote here, last night, that Board space was still rented and they need to dispose of the equipment and furniture they have.  But this morning I got an email saying that the Board had closed down its office at the University Center and most of its furnishings and equipment have been returned to the state surplus office where they got it.  But they do have laptops and data stored at a secure site.  
      3. The Court's time limits for decisions
        1. Six Months Rule
          1. "A salary disbursement may not be issued to a superior court judge until the judge has filed with the state officer designated to issue salary disbursements an affidavit that no matter referred to the judge for opinion or decision has been uncompleted or undecided by the judge for a period of more than six months." 
        2. Six Months Rule and the Supreme Court
          1. "For the Alaska Supreme Court, the six-month rule starts to run when the case is taken under advisement by the five members of the court. In order to be under advisement, the case must be ready to be decided by the court. Normally, the date the case is taken under advisement is the date of oral argument or the court's conference on the case if no oral argument is requested, although on occasion that date may be different in the event of requested supplemental briefing, reassignment to another justice, or other events that affect the date when the case is ready to be decided by the court. Once the case has been assigned to an individual justice to write the opinion, or in the words of the statute, has been "referred to the justice for opinion” (which cannot happen until the court has discussed the case after oral argument and knows which justices are in the majority), that justice has six months to complete the draft opinion and circulate it for voting by the rest of the court. This is the portion of the opinion that is within the control of the individual justice. Draft opinions are usually issued much more quickly than six months, in most cases within 90 days of the case being taken under advisement. Once all voting is complete by all individual justices, all voting suggestions have been incorporated during the reconciliation process, and any separate opinions have been prepared and voted upon, the draft is ready to be proofread and prepared for publication. About 75% of all Supreme Court appeals are published within nine months from the date they were taken under advisement."
          2. The Appellate Clerk added these caveats by email:  "The six-month rule applies in the appellate courts, but perhaps not the way you would think.  The six month clock resets each time a new draft is circulated, including draft concurrences or dissents.  I cannot give you an estimate on when this opinion will be issued."  and in response to my question whether it had been assigned to a judge and to whom:                             "Yes, the case has been assigned, but no, I cannot reveal to whom."
So, when will the ruling come out?

Well, if the clerk can't give me an estimate, it's probably foolhardy for me to try.  But I can at least look at some of the timelines involved.

1.  The Court lifted the stay on Judge Matthews' order on May 24, 2022.  Six months (if this went without the caveats listed above) would be November 24, 2022.  Nine months would be February 24, 2023.  

2.  But we don't know when:
    a.  the Justices met to have their conference on the case
    b.  when they assigned it to a justice to write up
    c.  how many 'resets' the clock had because of the need to rewrite the draft.

Will the Board end up making any changes after the decision comes out?

In the best case scenario the maps won't change any more.  I say this because:

1.  The Court could decide the current map will become the permanent map until 2030.
2.  The Court could give it back to the Board.
3.  There isn't much room to change anything; at most two or three Senate seats
4.  The political gains the Board majority sought with the Eagle River Senate seats are not really within reach anymore, so they would seem to have no motive to change anything, unless it was simply to have the last word.
[UPDATE: September 1, 2022:  Let me add 5 to reiterate that the most important part of the Supreme Court decision will be the reasoning behind the decision.  This is for the next Redistricting Boards 2030, 2040.  They don't want to rush this.  They want it to be as clear as possible.  So I'm guessing they'll take as long as they reasonably can until the justices are comfortable with the language.]

If the Court has decided that the final decision will be to make the interim map, permanent, then they would see no urgency in this case compared to other cases they are working on.  

Or if they give the final decision back to the Board, but with language that makes it practically impossible to do anything but make the interim plan permanent, there would, again, be no urgency.

The only real urgency then would be to let the Board officially wrap up loose ends and close down.  

So, I would guess we won't see a decision until after the six month mark from the last Court ruling  which would be late November,  but probably by the nine month mark in February 2023.  Sort of like having a baby.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Just Mushrooms

 A month of rain means lots of mushrooms.  This was all one bike ride with two stops to explore all the fungi..


This last one is a coral fungus.  Looking at my mushroom book, it looks most like a cauliflower fungus, but the range doesn't say it lives this far north.  Also says that r. strasberri is a northern species that is similar.  These coral fungus are listed as 'choice' in the edible category.  Not sure how I'd cook them.  And since I'm not sure what it is, not planning to go back and get some.  

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Trump Tipping Point - Stolen Documents Turn The Tide

During Watergate, it wasn't clear whether  Nixon would be able to ride things out or not until the Senate Watergate Committee played the secret tapes Nixon recorded in the Oval Office.  That was the turning point.  The point when Nixon supporters stopped supporting Nixon.  

Trump supporters are a different breed. Some will never stop supporting him, or at least the idea of Trump.  But lots of Republican politicians only support Trump because they fear losing 'his base' and his support at election time.  Others also fear the damaging information Trump has on them.  

But the top secret documents - their existence and the realization of what Trump likely plans to do with them, or already has done with them - feel to me like the turning point.  Even if Republican politicians don't publicly voice their opposition, the public, combined with the wave of energized pro-choice voters, will make their opinion known in November.  

But I want to remind folks that with Watergate, resolution didn't happen quickly.

Back in May I compared the January 6 hearings to the Watergate hearings, which I listened to/watched live at the time.  I also tried to put the timing from the Watergate Break-in to Nixon's resignation into perspective.  From that post: 

  • The break-in occurred May 28, 1972 (50 years ago).  
  • Nixon was reelected in November 1972
  • Alexander Butterfield testified about the existence of the White House tapes  before the Watergate Committee on July 16, 1973.
  • Nixon resigned August 9, 1974.

These events just plodded along.  Here's a detailed timeline.  

My point was that these things take time and that it was never certain that Nixon would actually be ensnared in the scandal.  Until he was.

In hindsight, it appears that the country's mood changed when we learned that the White House taped all the Oval Office conversations.  It was clear that once we heard the tapes, we'd know who had been telling the truth and who had been lying, about what Nixon knew and when he knew it.  (And the president lying to the American public mattered back then.)

And when the Watergate committee started playing the  tapes live on national television, those who were supporting Nixon knew the jig was up.  But if you look at the timeline, it was over a year between the public revelation of the existence of the tapes and Nixon's resignation.  

The Tweet below is the kind of indication I'm talking about in terms of people's understanding of the seriousness of the classified documents in Trump's possession.

For tens of millions, there were enough infractions to impeach, prosecute, and imprison Trump long ago.  But for other United States citizens, treason is the unforgivable transgression.

This Tweet suggests to me thatt the revelations in the last ten days tip the scales.  People are beginning to realize that not only did he illegally take all these documents, but that these highly secret documents have lots of information that could jeopardize US national security.  

Despite what we already know about Trump, the Tweeter is only now having his real Aha moment.

It's starting to sink in that Trump not only was probably planning to use these documents to raise funds, but that there is a good chance he's already shared some/much of the information to foreign nations that are not particularly friendly to the US. 

People have asked why would Saudi Arabia 'invest" $2 billion in Jared Kushner's investment company.  The documents give us a plausible explanation.  And now there's a timeline that shows Trump talked to Putin, then asked for list of top spies, and then US experiences big loss of informants.

We don't know yet whether these killings of US confidential informants happened because Trump provided the documents to some foreign government(s), but even if he didn't, his possession of these documents is more than serious.  And there is no evidence that Trump has any moral principle other than "me, me, me."

This is not another scandal that should get a -gate tagged onto the end.  This is SO MUCH BIGGER than Watergate.  This will require a whole new vocabulary to do it justice.  Benedict Arnold and Judas will be replaced by Trump when people want to accuse someone of treason.

But don't hold your breath for Trump to be indicted, let alone tried, or even put into prison.  It will still take a while, if it happens at all.

Nixon saved the country a lot of time and grief by resigning.  As vain as Nixon was, he was a great president in comparison to Trump.  Under his watch we got things like The Freedom Of Information Act, The Privacy Act, and a slew of environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Act.  And Nixon unlocked the door between China and the United States.  Mind you, I thought then and do now, that he was a vile man and did great harm to the US (think prolonging the Vietnam War among other things).  But he understood history and had enough sense of honor to not wish to be an impeached president.  So he resigned.

Trump, as he has done with every disagreement he's been involved in over his adult lifetime, is going to stall, threaten, counter attack, drag out, and everything else he can think of to tire out his opponents.  But it appears that he's now having trouble hiring a decent attorney.

The tides do seem to be turning.  Trump is scrambling but there isn't much firm footing under him.  And while the people who continue to answer his text exhortations to send him money will probably put up Trump figurines and candles in their homes, his less cultish supporters are going to have to figure out how to shift alliances.

But I expect there won't be any indictments until after the November midterm elections.  Then there will be fights over how to try an ex-president, how to get a fair jury, whether trying him will enrage his base (as if they could get more self-righteously enraged) and whether NOT trying him would enrage the rest of the country.  

We've got at least a year or more of this drama.  How will all this affect Trump's health?  His dad lived to 93, but was a much thinner man with a lot less stress.  And the Trump cultists will continue to work out their own personal social and mental problems by worshipping their fallen hero.  

So, while we're at a big turning point in the Trump saga, it's going to take a while yet.  And if Republicans win the House and/or Senate, it's going to take even longer.  If the Kansas abortion vote wasn't a fluke, and the same forces vote for Democrats in November, then it will move along faster.  

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Alaska Redistricting Board's Dramatic Pleas For Military Voters And JBER's 3.5% Voter Turnout [Updated 8/31/22]

The Republican majority of the Alaska Redistricting Board created elaborate stories to justify pairing a Muldoon house district with Eagle River.  When that was rejected by the Alaska Supreme Court, they made even more passionate pleas to keep JBER with Chugiak in a state senate district.   It was mostly about the military connections,  and how the holy soldiers would be deprived of their representation if paired with the unholy (read: Democratic) downtown. 

Simpson:  "The most partisan is the proposed pairing of JBER and downtown.  This would diminish the voice of our valued military personal.  I can’t accept that.  I will vote for 3B."

Simpson: "I find the pairing of 23 and 24 ER and Chugiak the more compelling solution.  Pairing JBER with downtown overlooks a conflict of interest and opens us to a challenge to that constituency.  Chugiak has developed as a bedroom community for the military families.  They send their kids to middle school and high school there.  That testimony was compelling to that pairing."

Marcum:  "I’m very uncomfortable with Option 2 because it moves JBER and links it with D17.  It makes the least sense for any possible pairings.  Downtown is the arts and tourism, not what makes up JBER.  It is used to wake up the military community.  Choosing option 2 is an intentional intent to break up that natural pairing.  JBER should be with Chugiak" [note, these were my notes and I suspect I missed some words, but I did get the tone and intent correct.] 

Marcum:  "I would like say on behalf of our military.  Implications for military will be major.  Dominated by downtown voters.  JBER voice will be lost.  Ironic that those who have sacrificed the most."

You can see each of them and Member Binkley on the video on this blog post.   

[UPDATED August 31, 2022:  I knew I had their comments and my responses somewhere, but couldn't find them when I wrote this.  They're in this post - at the end.  My comments are in red which should make that section easier to find.]

So, let's look at that lost voice.  .   Here are the results from House District 18 for August 16 primary election.  Those brave soldiers barely whispered


Note that the JBER precinct has 7,528 registered voters out of 12,157 voters total.  That means they comprise about 60% of the voters in the district.  Yet only 277 JBER precinct voters actually voted out of 1184 total votes.  Although they are 60% of the total voters, they were only 23% of the people who actually voted.  The State's chart shows that only 3.68% of JBER voters voted!

The military tend not to vote.  All the candidates with parts of their district on base know this.  The fact that campaigning on base is difficult - candidates aren't allowed to go door to door for example - doesn't bother candidates too much because the military tend not to vote in large numbers.  Particularly for state offices.  (I haven't found the precinct by precinct stats for the US Senate or House races which might have gotten a slightly higher percent of JBER voters.)

So all the theatrics by Budd Simpson, Bethany Marcum, and to a lesser extent John Binkley about how JBER needed to be paired with Chugiak so they could be fairly represented and not, God forbid, with downtown, was just that - an act to capture one more Republican state senate seat.  

Fortunately, the Alaska Supreme Court saw through the dramatics, thanks, in large part to minority Redistricting Board members Melanie Bahnke and Nicole Borromeo.  

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Anchorage's Refugee Farm Market - Great Fresh Produce And More

 Catholic Social Services has a host of programs to help various communities.  RAIS - Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services - is focused on new refugees coming to Anchorage.  They help them get housing, English lessons, jobs, into school, and other help as needed.  One of the most visible activities is the Grow North Farm, on 

Mt. View between Bragaw and Airport Heights.  

As you can see from the sign, they are open weekday afternoons from 4-7pm.  

The growing season seems to be in its prime now.  These are pictures from Thursday when I went to pick up my CSA box.  CSA is Community Supported Agriculture.  Community members subscribe to get weekly produce boxes.  Details vary from program to program, but the RAIS program pick up is on Thursdays.  But there are lots of vegetables for anyone to buy, even without a CSA subscription.  


The vegetables on sale are picked that day.  

A number of the refugees are from African countries such as Somalia and Congo and Ethiopia and they are growing greens they know from home.  We got sorrel and dodo in a recent box.  Fortunately RAIS also has a cookbook with recipes for some of the produce that are not usually available in Anchorage.  


I was told these were pickled radishes. There are other goodies available from different vendors - spices, sweets, and other surprises.  

The vendors get the benefit of tents and umbrellas which they have definitely needed in August.  

There's also a food truck and every Thursday there's a dinner offering from a different culture.  This Burmese coconut chicken soup was great.  And last week we go an Arabic rice dish that had a wonderful sauce.  

Getting to meet the folks who grow and sell the food is a big part of attraction of this market.  We've got fascinating neighbors here in Anchorage with lots to teach us.  

This is a summer only market.  It's scheduled go through the end of September.  

Friday, August 19, 2022

Sorting Through All The Crazy

I was going to post some links to different posts I thought worth reading.  But the first one is probably more than enough.  

The real Joe Gerace   - Lex Treinen worked on the article that exposed Bronson's Anchorage Health Department head for adding non-existing  masters degrees to his resume and led to Gerace's resignation.  This link takes you to background on that piece - the work and revelations that led up to it.  It's good, open book, here's-how-I-got-this-information type journalism.  

"A few days later, I was in Fairbanks sitting on a beach. I called a former business associate of Gerace.

'I’m surprised Joe’s in charge of the homeless in Anchorage,” the man said, “I remember we used to drive down 3rd Avenue where the homeless shelters used to be. Joe would talk about taking out his rifle and shooting the people camped there.'”

After lengthy background investigation and some personal interactions earlier, Treinen finally calls Gerace to confront him with the evidence he's found of padded resumes.  While Treinen thought he might be hung up on, the interview lasts over an hour.  It seems like Gerace knows he's cornered and while he starts out putting up some resistance, it's just bravado. before he gives up.   He's almost begging Treinen to not be too harsh on him. 

I asked him about his guard service. He dodged. I pressed again, trying to nail down a detail, or at least an acknowledgement of dishonesty on his resume. He squirmed like a slippery salmon. Sometimes his words were too confusing to understand his answers. Sometimes he made excuses. But sometimes he acknowledged he’d lied, like when I asked him about the 5 combat deployments he listed on one of his resumes.

Me: Were you deployed in combat? 

Gerace: No. 

Me: You wrote on that Visit resume that you have five combat deployments.

Gerace: Did I write that? 

Me: You wrote that. Do you know why you would have written that?

Gerace: Can you show that to me? Does it say that? 

Me: Yes. On the Visit resume that was shared with me. 

Gerace: I don’t think I wrote that Lex. 

Then Treinen moves on to the masters degrees.  Here he just folds completely.  He knows his lies have caught up with him.  Perhaps a load has been taken off him as he confesses.

" I asked him about his MBA, which he said was from Henry Cogswell College. 

Me: We checked with them, and they said they don’t they didn’t offer a Masters of Business in the year that you got. How was it you could have got it?

Gerace: I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.

Me: You don’t know how you got a master’s degree? 

Gerace: Wait, wait, stop. I do. I went to the classes in Everett, Washington.

Me: Do you know why they would say that they don’t have any record of that in the state of Washington doesn’t have any record of that degree? 

Gerace: I don’t know, because I’d have to ask them because there was some when the school closed, there was some heavy confusion about how to even get our stuff.

He refused to say where he would have got his Masters in Physician Assistant Studies as well. I wound down the conversation an hour and a half into it and he promised to send me copies of his degrees before the end of the day. Still, it was surprisingly cordial. Several times he tried to elicit sympathy, talking about protecting his former partners from harm that might be caused by publishing this story, or talking about the decades of service for people he’d claimed. He told me a stroke he had last week had left him partially paralyzed on his left side, and he was having trouble concentrating. Finally, he half-heartedly begged for some sort of mercy. 

'You’re gonna destroy my credibility all over I mean, I get you have to do it. Can you just not say that Joe’s not — fine, Lex, just do whatever you need to do,' he said."

Definitely worth reading for Anchorage folks. 

 My sense is that Bronson got elected because of two issues - the COVID mask requirements and the Golden Lion planned conversion to a drug rehabilitation facility.  The Kriner crowd supported him on the masks and a group of Geneva Woods NIMBY's supported him so he'd shut down the Golden Lion plans.  And that seems to be his basic agenda.  I'm sure there's also some national GOP help since they are so into local government control.  And censoring libraries is a big deal for them, which would explain our library director fiasco. 

Oh, yeah, he wants to buy a giant tent to put the homeless in.  The Assembly blocked that and it looks like Bronson might have pushed the homeless to the Centennial campground so he could argue there's no option left but going back to the tent idea.  So now we have to find the link between Bronson and the tent manufacturer.  I'm sure it's there, but it's just one more thing I haven't had the time to pursue.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Election Thoughts After Four Hours As a Poll Worker In A Unique Election [Updated]

 It's election day in Alaska and I had a four hour shift - from 10:30am- 2:30pm - today at a local polling place.  Below are things that struck me about today.  But first an explanation of this unusual election

As a preface to non-Alaskan readers, this was a particularly unusual election. 

  1. There were two different elections happening at the same time
    1. There's a special general election to replace US Rep Don Young who died in office.  There was already a primary election earlier.  Today's winner will finish Don Young's seat which ends in January 3, 2023 and when new Representatives are sworn in.
    2. There's a regular primary election for the November general election. 
  2. Alaska is changing from regular party primaries to open primaries and then ranked choice voting in the general.  So the top four candidates go to the general election.  At the general election, voters can rank the candidates from one to four.  When your choice candidate is eliminated, your second choice vote is counted. This goes on until one candidate has more than 50%. 
  3. So, the special general election today to replace Don Young is ranked choice.  The primary election today, voters only pick one candidate for each office.  Confused yet?  It's not that hard, but it's hard to describe it clearly.  

Turnout Seems High  [UPDATE August 17, 2022: The unofficial primary results for Senate seats show a wide variation in turnout from district to district.  Some in the teens others in the thirties.  But absentee ballots and mail-in ballots would seem to still be out. Where I worked today had 30% as of the latest results]

There were 100 votes when I got there (2.5 hours after the polls opened) and 260 votes when I left at 2:30.  

The person who organized this group of poll workers sent out emails about how primaries and special elections tended to be slow and that we should bring something to read or otherwise occupy our time.  

So, in my four hour shift, 160 people voted.  If I'm calculating right, that comes to one vote every 90 seconds.  

So, is that a lot?  There are 1800 on the register for that polling place.  So by 2:30pm 14% of the voters in that precinct had voted.  We've had municipal elections with 20% of voters voting.  And there were 5.5 hours left for people to vote, and the after work hours tend to be the busiest.    

Also, there were some disabled voters, whose votes do not go in the voting machine so they aren't in my tally.  Also there were some questioned ballots that aren't in my tally. (People who weren't on the voting list for this precinct, didn't have ID, etc.)  

And, of course, a lot of people voted early or by mail.  So based on the precinct I worked at, voter  turnout is pretty strong.  

A friend working another polling place says they had 600 votes by 3:30pm.  

The Voting Machine

My job was helping people get their ballots into the voting machine.  It's a Dominion machine.  The company that sued Rudy Guiliani and Sidney Powell for defamation and is also suing Fox News.  That suit was allowed to proceed recently.   The instructions are to pull the ballot out of the privacy sleeve a little bit and then push the ballot into the slot.  But most people were having trouble with that.  The ballot wasn't catching enough, or maybe they were squeezing the privacy sleeve which kept the ballot for pulling out.  So I started telling people to pull it out about four inches.  That really wasn't much better. 

Finally I told people I would stand way back so I couldn't see their ballot and they could then pull the ballot out of the privacy sleeve altogether and put it in the slot.  That worked easily at least 90% of the time.  

Once the ballot goes in, you have to check the little screen on the machine.  If all is good, a message flashes saying it was successful and there's a check mark.  But that's up for maybe 3 seconds and then it's ready for the next ballot.  If you aren't looking for it, it's easy to miss. 

But if there is a problem, the screen tells you, very specifically.  Things like voting for two candidates instead of just one.  Or on the ranked choice part, that people marked more than one candidate the same ranking.  Or that they put in two write-in candidates.  Then you have a choice of pushing a button to cast the ballot anyway, or to return the ballot.  Then they can tear up that ballot - and turn it in to be saved in a special envelop, and they can have another ballot.  But they can only do that twice.  Most of the time the ballot was successful.  

Other than the ballots being tricky to insert into the machine while in the privacy sleeve, the machine worked well.  


All but one voter were polite, friendly even.  Most thanked me for volunteering*.  No one objected to my suggestion that I would stand way back and then to take the ballot out of the privacy sleeve.  They listened and nodded politely and did it.  

There was one exception.  And this lady wasn't rude to me, but she shared her opinion in an angry tone (but again, clearly not aimed at me) and said, "This election is totally fucked up."  This was not a young voter.  

Who Voted?

I wasn't signing people in so I couldn't see the political affiliation of the voters.  And that really wasn't relevant since everyone now gets the same primary ballot.  I'm not even sure that information was on the register.  

It seemed to me that the people voting were far more likely to be over 50 than under 30.  Perhaps this just reflected that I was there mid-day when younger folks are working. (Though that's probably less a factor in 2022 than 2019.)  The vast majority was white.  

Most were not wearing masks.  But there were people wearing masks as well.  All the poll workers wore masks.  

A few people had kids with them.  

Write-In Votes

You can only choose one write-in candidate for the ranked choice part of the election.  I found that out when the machine alerted me that someone had put in two write-in candidates.  Afterward we talked about that.  The consensus seemed to be that there could only be four finalists in the ranked choice part of the vote.  It was speculated that had Al Gross not dropped out after being the fourth candidate, there would have been no write-ins allowed.  But I don't know for sure.  

There was some dispute about whether non-certified candidates could be written in.  I mentioned that I'd asked about the difference between certified and uncertified write-in candidates at the election office last week and they said there was no difference.  But another worker said someone who wasn't certified couldn't take office.  That might be, because my question was about what happens to someone's SECOND vote (in the ranked choice voting), if they voted for a non-certified write-in candidate first or second.  The answer was, there is no difference.  In both cases your next vote would count if no one got 50%+1 in that round.  

One Odd Incident

At one point I noticed there was a woman who had been at a voting booth (one of the two without privacy covers) for a while.  I guessed about 30 minutes already.  And then our precinct captain asked me if she had voted.  She was gone, but I didn't notice her if she voted.  (I was the person staffing the voting machine.)  One of the people signing people in said she saw the women walk by when I was helping someone else vote.  Yes, she'd signed in and been given a ballot.  She was holding a privacy sleeve (and presumably a ballot inside) when she walked out.  Someone checked the trash cans outside the gym we were in, but there was no ballot. 

All the ballots are given out in numerical order and in the end all the ballots have to be accounted for.  Torn up ballots are counted.  Challenged ballots are counted.  All the ballots that go into the voting machine are counted.  Fortunately someone so the woman walk out with a ballot - though she didn't realize the significance until we put it all together.  So that ballot got an special report to account for it.  

I Voted Stickers

The last part of my job was to make sure there were enough stickers for people who voted to choose from.  Really.  We first make people choose who to vote for and then when they think they are done, they have to choose which I Voted Sticker they want.  

There's the traditional Alaska flag sticker.  One that shows three different sets of shoes below the voting curtain, and then three different Alaska Native themed stickers.  At times it was busy enough that I was down to two or three stickers left on the chair.  

Voting Location Changes

[UPDATED August 16, 2022  6:40pm]  I forgot this point when I first posted.  A lot of people voting today were used to voting at a church nearby.  They went there first. One of the early morning poll workers put up a sign on the church door to come to our location.  But some of the people coming from the church were not listed on our register.  The poll workers were able to look up the voters (on their phones) to find out their new polling place.  It was a couple of miles away.  Another sign was then added to the church door.  But this is an issue that Redistricting Boards should consider more carefully when the draw their lines.  I know my old polling place is now in another district and my new polling place is further away.  Seems to be an issue.  Of course, this is also the first time many people are voting after Redistricting is in place for the next ten years. 

I'm not sure how the ranked choice votes are tallied. [UPDATED August 18, 2022 1:15am:  From the Division of Elections website

"Ranked Choice Voting Tabulations

Ranked Choice Voting results will not be available until August 31, 2022 once all eligible ballots are reviewed and counted."

Here's the link for the primary election unofficial results.]

 First all the votes have to be counted.  Then one candidate is dropped and all that candidate's second choice votes have to be distributed to the remaining candidates until someone has over 50%.  That obviously has to be done centrally when all the votes are in.  So it may be a while before we find out the winner of the special election.  And I don't know how the public verifies that the second and third choice votes are properly allocated.  I guess will find that out in the next week or more.  

*I mentioned that a lot of people thanked me for volunteering.  I was, in fact, volunteering.  The Division of Elections has a program where a non-profit can volunteer to run a polling place.  Instead of paying the staff, the non-profit gets paid.  But my understanding is that most people working at polling places are paid.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  Just a clarification.  

Monday, August 15, 2022

Too Much To Think About, So Relax A Bit With Nature


The liatris is blooming as it usually does this time of the summer.

I haven't dabbled in dahlias for a long time.  This one plant zoomed up about five feet with a stem at least an inch of diameter.  All the others are between one and two feet high with no blossoms.  I have no clue why.  I would assume it has to do with the soil, but this one is in a pot with two others that have done nothing much.  

And, with the rain that we've been having this August, the mushrooms are popping up everywhere.

Even on gray, rainy days the bike trails (this one through UAA) are beautiful and refreshing.  Though on this stretch it would be nice if the huge bulges were smoothed out.  Someone has marked them with blue paint, but four to six inch humps at the bottom of a hill are more excitement than I need.  

Am I stretching the nature theme here?  The eggs we buy at the market are hardly natural.  The peaches may be a bit more so. Probably not.  The bananas? Don't really know.  But the raspberries are from the back yard and get nothing but compost and water.  

Jacob asked in the comments in the last post about whether the US was headed for another civil war.  I'm thinking about that.  We probably need to consider the concept of civil war beyond the US Civil War.  At this point I doubt we'll have a civil war in the last US Civil War style.  The split among people is not nearly as regional, and from what I can tell, the craziness has been stoked a lot by Russian compromised politicians and social media bots that whip up extremist fervor.  More like, if democracy is defeated, it will come from the long term Conservative campaigns (Kochs, Federalist Society, wealthy) to capture the courts and local and state governments in order to gerrymander elections to keep Republicans in control in states, and to have enough influence on redistricting to skew Congressional elections to the right.  The Senate, because every state has two Senators, is already skewed to the right.

"In the incoming Senate, Democratic senators will represent at least 20,314,962 more people than their Republican counterparts — and that’s if we assume that Republicans win both runoff elections in Georgia. If the two Georgia seats go to the Democrats, the Senate will be split 50-50, but the Democratic half will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half."

That's from a November 2020 Vox article

Friday, August 12, 2022

Alaska Special Election - Does It Matter If A Write-In Candidate Is Certified Or Not?

The quick answer, I got from the Division Elections yesterday, is No.  

I'd read online that only write-in votes for write-in candidats who had registered and were certified  would count.  

Normally, a write in candidate wouldn't really matter.  But on a ranked choice vote, if you pick one as your first or second choice, it could matter if no one gets 50% of the vote on the first round.  Then the candidate you vote for second would get the vote if your write-in candidate is dropped. 

But when I asked my question in the voting room (at the Division of Elections on Gamble near Fireweed) they had trouble actually answering.  There were no instructions about who the certified write-in candidates were in the voting booth.  It just said how you could write in a name. So then I asked someone else.  

Instructions in the voting booth

Is there any difference in how a certified write-in candidate is treated and just writing in Donald Duck?

If I put Donald Duck as my first choice would my next choice get my vote in the second round, the same as a certified write-in candidate?  The person couldn't really answer my question.

She walked me down the hall and got someone from the Division of Elections to respond.  In the end, the Division of Elections person said it didn't matter if the write-in candidate was certified or not.  If you vote them number one and it goes to a second round, then your second choice would count.  

Even if it's Donald Duck?  Yes.

When I asked what the point of getting certified was, I was told that maybe more people would know you were a candidate.  

I guess it's good that we learn in a special election before we're faced with new questions in every race.

It wasn't easy deciding how to vote.  My first choice was easy.  But do I really want to vote, even third or fourth for Sarah Palin?  Or for Nick Begich?  Both are Trumpers, apparently happy with the Supreme Court's abortion ruling.  And that Trump keeps saying the election was stolen.  The one is mostly fireworks and an attention addict, but the other seems more problematic because he's smarter and hardwired with Fundamentalist upbringing and pro-business ideology.  Palin will get tired after a while, but Begich could do real damage.  Wouldn't have to even think about this without Ranked Choice Voting.  And without Ranked Choice Voting, Palin and Begich would take votes away from each other giving Peltola a path to win.  Why didn't Santa Claus come in fourth?  

Meanwhile we have great "I've Voted" sticker options. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Woman In Gold Has Special Meaning For Me

Bear with me as I wander a bit.  In the end I will recommend you watch Woman in Gold on Netflix.  

My mother used to send me clippings about a woman, Maria Altman,  in LA who was suing the Austrian government to win back paintings by Gustav Klimt, stolen by the Nazis from her family, with the main attention on the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who was the beloved aunt of Maria Altman.

It turned out that Maria Altman was someone my mother knew.  My mom would shop at her small dress shop.  They became acquaintances, if not friends, because they had both fled the Nazis as young women and they both worked most of their lives. Sometimes my mom just related things Maria Altman told her about the progress (or lack of progress) in the proceedings to get back the paintings the Nazis stole from her wealthy family's Vienna house.  The problem was, the main painting was valued at an estimated $100 million and was considered the prize painting by an Austrian artist in the eyes of the Austrian government.

One of the ironies of the story is that this great Austrian painting so valued by the Austrians, is of a Jewish woman.  But her name was removed and the painting was called  Woman in Gold.

Because I'd been hearing about the lawsuit, when the movie was released in 2015, we immediately went to see it in Anchorage.  At that time, we were flying monthly to visit my mom who was then 93 and pretty much bedridden.  I really wanted her to see the film, but taking her to a theater would have been a real production.  

I'd been hearing about how good Netflix was and googled "Netflix, Woman in Gold" and got a page which suggested we could watch it there.  So that was when I signed up for Netflix.  But then when I searched for Woman in Gold, they didn't actually have it.  My initial experience with Netflix wasn't a good one.

However, there are other modern German language films which my mother and I did enjoy watching together on Netflix.  She died that July never having gotten to see this major film about someone who knew and whose story she had followed for years.  

I'd note another connection in the film.  The attorney Maria Altman engaged for this battle was  the grandson of Arnold Schoenberg the giant of 20th Century classical music..  Arnold Schoenberg had been a guest in Altman's family home in Vienna before he too fled to the United States and California.  My mother also knew this family, though she ever met Arnold.  My understanding is that they were either relatives or close friends of Melanie Swinburg who had been a stage actress in Vienna.  I knew her well because she became the baby nurse of my younger brother and remained a close family friend until her death.  Her crypt is with my family's in LA, next to my brother's, who died in an accident at the age of 23.  

So this film has lots of family connections as well as parallel family experiences, though Altman's family was fabulously wealthy in Vienna and my mother's father owned a modest men's clothing store in Dortmund, Germany.  

So when I saw that Woman in Gold was finally playing on Netflix this week, we watched it.  It was a very emotional experience for me for all the reasons mentioned above.  Plus Helen Mirren who plays Maria Altman looks and sounds like lots of women I knew growing up. And I'm a sucker for stories of great injustice being righted.  And, of course, I was sad again that my mother couldn't watch this film with us.  

One final example of how the film spoke to me - a more tangible one.  As a child, my parents would read to me, and translate from,  Struwwelpeter, a book with tales of very 'bōse' (something between naughty, wicked, and evil) little boys.  

The cover story is one I remember well - the boy who never cut his hair or fingernails.  The consequences for these behaviors was grim and perhaps tells us something about the German psyche.  For instance, the boy who sucks his thumb and is forbidden to suck it again, of course sucks it as soon as he is alone.  And it gets cut off with giant shears and blood dripping.  

I had a strange affection for this book.  If the intent was to scare little children into obeying their parents, it didn't work on me.  

At one point in the movie, when Mrs. Altman, at her  small home,  is trying to persuade Randy Schoenberg to take her case, he sees a copy of Struwwelpeter and picks it and tells her that he too was read the stories as a child.  

I'd brought the family copy of the book back from my mom's house last time we were there.

So, I'd recommend folks watch Woman In Gold if they have Netflix.  (Or if they find it elsewhere.)  

The scenes of the Nazis publicly  humiliating and beating Jews, breaking into their houses and stealing all their valuables, is a reminder  of what could happen here if Republicans don't let go of their obeisance to Trump and his calls for attacking those they disagree with. And if voters don't come out in droves to overcome the GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression.  The mob that broke into the Capitol and tried to overthrow the election doesn't look that different from the Austrian citizens we see.  Well, actually the Austrians look rather reserved in comparison.  

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Vicariously Biking Through Turkey

The last two summers I've set a goal - a mental trip - that would keep me biking all summer.  Two years ago it was from Santiago, Chile to Conception, Chile.  Last year it was Chiengmai, Thailand to Bangkok.  This post from last summer tells you how I came up with this scheme and little bit about the previous two years.

The Chilean ride was 650 kilometers (403 miles).  The Thai trip was 750 (466 miles).  

This summer I chose Istanbul, Turkey to the Cappadocia region of Turkey.  Playing with google maps and some city-to-city maps, I calculated that as 750 k again.  Why Turkey?  It's the last travel destination that I'd like to get to.  When I was a student in Germany in the 1960s, as I hitch-hiked through Greece, I decided I'd pass on Istanbul and come back another time.  I made that same kind of promise about the Taj Mahal, but I've since gotten to see that exquisite structure.  

Yesterday I got over 500 kilometers and went to see whereabouts I am on a map of Turkey.  My original estimates were that I had gotten past Ankara.  But the map I pulled up was one I hadn't seen before and it was a terrific map!  It was somebodies bike ride from Istanbul to Cappadocia with the route in red.  And best of all, if you put the mouse anywhere on the route, it gave the distance.  It was set to miles, but I could change it to kilometers.

I've written in Ankara in red (in the middle) and the arrow shows about where I am now.  Of course, I'm doing most of this biking on Anchorage bike trails (though I did a little bit when I was on Bainbridge Island, but that's all hilly and mostly on routes shared with cars.)

You can go to the site - ride with GPS - and see how it shows the distance and other options like elevation and grade interactively along the route.

The difference in distance appears to be based on the route.  I originally did the main road from Istanbul to Ankara and the most direct route the rest of the way.  This cyclist  probably choose roads with less traffic that circles around Ankara and then dips further south before getting into Cappadocia.  I'm not worrying about that.  I'm still aiming for my 750 kilometers before the snow flies.  If I get there with time to spare, I'll keep going.  

The nearest town appears to be Polatli.  Here's a bit of what Wikipedia says:

"Polatlı is one of the most productive agricultural districts in Turkey and is best known for its cereal production, especially barley and wheat. Polatlı is one of Turkey's largest grain stores. Sugar beet, melon and onion are also grown."

Here's the nicest picture I found of the area online from

And what I'm actually seeing is more like this:

Not bad either.